Avatars most frequently are used in virtual worlds such as Second Life, but they also can be used to "people" technology such as Seattle-based NetSpeed Leadership's virtual platform that uses avatars to support podcasts about workplace issues.
In a community section on the platform, students from the training company’s leadership classes collaborate, create, and upload their own podcasts (which the company refers to as "podspots"), or download podcasts from NetSpeed. In this community, each participant chooses an avatar to represent him- or herself. Cynthia Clay, president of NetSpeed, says the avatars are compelling, and make it more likely users will listen to the whole message. They also enable participants to enjoy the capabilities of a digital representation of themselves. Clay and consultant partner Dan Kennedy both have avatars that speak during NetSpeed’s podcasts. "Their purpose is to make the podspot a bit more attention getting, since many of us need that visual stimulation," says Clay. "We're also both better looking, younger, and more intelligent as our avatar selves."
Down to Business
True to (or better than) life your avatars may be, but the technology won't do your company any good if it can't be easily incorporated for business use. NetSpeed Fast Tracks, a new service offered by Netspeed Leadership, does just that. A searchable resource database of podcasts, articles, blog postings, and expert interviews, the tool is designed to help managers, supervisors, and individual employees handle workplace challenges. Learning content is based on current career development, communication, and management theories, and is updated constantly with new information and subject matter expert interviews. Organizations and individual employees can subscribe to existing learning content, or they can "privatize" the service, making it their company's own on-demand learning platform. They can incorporate their own content, brand the site with their logo and color scheme, and make it available internally. They also can use the platform to create personalized avatar presenters.
Netspeed Fast Tracks invites users to submit their own Community PodSpots by recording and uploading an audio file, supported by an avatar that represents them. They can e-mail their podspot to anyone in their network, and can choose to comment on other Community PodSpots, or e-mail them to peers. These avatar-fueled group activities can be used effectively as a post-class reinforcement of instruction.
If avatar-populated simulations still bring to mind solitary teenage gamers, consider the following corporate advantages of these virtual lands:
- Easy access to on-demand information. Netspeed Fast Tracks, for example, allows users to listen to content, watch it at their desktop, or download podcasts to an iPod or MP3 player.
- Custom-made. For the delivery of mission-critical information, customized podcasts can be created through Netspeed Fast Tracks to quickly bring employees up to speed on everything from an organization's latest product rollout to a weekly motivational message.
- Better than PowerPoint. As seen in Second Life and e-learning simulations, avatars allow the user to hear and see the content in a compelling medium. They're not only interesting and visually stimulating, they also drive home your points. Employees who listen to a podcast while watching an avatar combine two primary learning modalities.
- Youth-oriented. Computer savvy, accustomed to instant information access (via the Internet), and comfortable with technology, Gen X and Y workers want practical, relevant content delivered in a personal way when they need it. They don’t want to wait for the next scheduled training program. Not surprisingly, they often prefer an avatar to you.